SEX EDITION

January 25, 2012

SEX EDITION

JANUARY 2012


Editorial

January 24, 2012

The theme for this issue of For’em Magazine is SEX. A topic which has many dimensions and raises a wide range of questions and topics for debate.  The paradox of sex being taboo to a large extent whilst still being very present all around us is prevailing.

Pornography, sexual violence and sexuality are some of the topics discussed and we hope that the articles will provoke your interest and encourage hot debate.

 

Cheers,

Eavan and Felicia.


Not Just Juicy Gossip

January 24, 2012

– Sexual Violence and Rape Cannot be Seen as an Extension of Sexuality

Words By: Josh Kitto

Who wants to hear some juicy gossip? Herman Cain, inexplicably a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, was forced to drop out due to a “sex scandal”! At least 4 women said he had sexually harassed them. How naughty!

Something sound wrong here? The failure of Cain’s campaign was framed as due to a “sex scandal”. One woman who said they had a consensual affair with Mr. Cain was put into the same category of “accusers” as those who said Mr. Cain had harassed or assaulted them. There are several revealing implications here. The use of the word “scandal” implies something salacious, not a potential illegal conduct. The women are seen as equally controversial (further exacerbated by the use of “accusers”). But it is also revealing that sexual violence is seen as a natural extension of sexuality, rather than as a weapon.

Discussion of sexual violence does not focus on the important second word, but on the former, as ‘sex gone too far’. Immediately, even if most blame remains with the ‘accused’, there is at least some shift in the burden of blame to the ‘accuser’. Rape in particular gets discussed in the media as something almost accidental, as the next step from the condom splitting. The corollary is that rape is seen as either done by serial rapists’ randomly attacking women, or not at all. For a third of people according to an Amnesty International UK study in 2005, if a woman has been behaving flirtatiously (how dare they), she is partially or totally responsible for being raped. In the media sexual violence is often portrayed as almost a natural extension of sexuality, rather than as a weapon. One in four believes revealing clothing leaves women totally or partially responsible for being raped. One in five had the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners (however that is defined), and finally one in 12 believe women were totally responsible for being raped if having had many sexual partners.

Cain’s candidacy was destroyed by his support flat lining amongst Republican women. While his support fell from the mid-thirties to the mid-twenties amongst Republican men, his support amongst Grand Old Party Women fell from around a quarter to about 5% in some polls. Male lefties have repeated the same excuses Cain’s supporters used for their own figures: ‘under attack’. Juanita Broaddrick said during the Lewinsky scandal that she was raped by Bill Clinton in 1978. She was derided by “liberals” and never properly listened to. She, like Lewinsky was also labeled an ‘accuser’’.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s backers immediately blamed women, saying they had consensual affairs with the IMF boss. They were dismissed as traitors, or as right-wing plants trying to destroy his 2012 French Presidential campaign. The infamous case of Julian Assange has been framed according to the same rhetoric. Usual lines about the women’s sexual history, whether they had been flirting with Assange etc. were trotted out.

However, these attitudes are not limited to sexual violence towards women being seen as a natural extension of male sexuality. The child rape charges against Jerry Sandusky, a Pennsylvania State football coach, and the attempted cover-up of the incidents, has been referred to as a “sex scandal”. The Catholic Church abuse cover-up is similar in many ways. One similarity is in how child rape has been referred to as “homosexual rape”. There are more insidious implications of this, namely in attempts to link male homosexuality with paedophilia (including by many in the Church). But rape of adult males by fellow males is again seen as a natural extension of (male) sexuality. Many vain heterosexual men fear all gay men want to rape them. Men raping men is presented in sexual terms, as “something gay men do”. The blame is shifted far more with the rapist than the “accuser” though, certainly in comparison to men raping women.

But it is still normalised as an extension of sex, rather than as a weapon. It can be a weapon used by heterosexual men against heterosexual and homosexual men. Female civilians are made more vulnerable to sexual violence by war. But male soldiers captured or beaten by an enemy become threatened with sexual violence. And, as witty as gags about dropping soap in the prison shower are, male prisoners are particularly vulnerable to being raped by other men, regardless of  either party’s sexuality.

The most damaging aspect is how sexualised rape trials become. If a third assumes flirtation leaves women culpable for rape, it is concerning that a third of a jury room might side against the prosecution for that reason. Subjective interpretations of rape are often relied on in the jury room. If someone underestimates the scale of rape and thinks it is limited to random attackers at night, some will lean towards the defendant if there is no evidence of physical force having been applied. When there are no trauma experts to explain that not all people being raped will scream for help or clearly say no, the jury room can easily equate this with consent. Even ‘rape shield’ laws, designed to prevent the prosecution’s sexual history being discussed, are weak and often unenforced as a 2006 Home Office study revealed. This all leads to rape not being taken seriously.

Rape and sexual harassment should not under any circumstances be confused with juicy gossip or a ‘sex scandal,’ and needs to be seen for what it is. It is not just a shift in political and legal attitudes that is required, but also a culture of more rational discussion about sexuality.


Pornography Contributes to Body Hatred

January 24, 2012

Words by: Eavan Mckay

Cosmetic gynecology is one of the fastest growing areas of surgery. Figures out in 2010 reveal that 65% of these surgeries are in labial reduction, the rest in tightening and reshaping. The majority of these surgeries are conducted privately but increasingly women are also able to receive labia reduction surgery on the NHS, if a doctor can consent that the size of their labia is causing them serious psychological distress.

At private clinics – of which there are a large number in the US and a fast growing number in the UK – clients (not patients because this is cash in hand) can choose from the procedures including ‘vaginal rejuvenation’ (tightening), ‘hymenoplasty’ (revirgination) and possibly the most scary of all, clitoral ‘unhooding’, presumably because it is so difficult to find, HA!

Labiaplasty operations in the UK are rapidly increasing. The surgery is generally intended to make labia smaller or more asymmetrical. Dr Sarah Creighton, who works as a consultant gynecologist at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health in London, says that although in extremely rare cases unusual hormonal conditions can cause clitoral or labia abnormalities – thus cause discomfort – almost all the women seeking surgery do not have a medical under-lying condition. Dr Creighton warns that regardless of this sometimes labiaplasties are conducted on the NHS because it is very hard for a GP to refuse a woman a gynecological referral if she argues her insecurities are psychologically damaging.  

Due to the increasing number of women undergoing these operations in the UK a King’s University study has attempted to find out more about the motivations of women seeking these procedures. Professor Linda Cardozo, a gynaecologist, said that the preliminary findings show that while women do go to the NHS seeking help with functional problems, such as discomfort during sex, those who turn to private surgery were mainly seeking cosmetic surgery. Cardozo also expressed concerns that private providers could be acting irresponsibly by operating on vulnerable women in need of psychological care. Dr Veal, a consultant psychiatrist in cognitive behavior therapy and a partner in the King’s University research, expressed worry that a large proportion of women seeking surgery, most of whom are under 30, do so on the mistaken impression that it might solve psychological problems such as body dimorphic disorder. Clearly a better alternative would be counseling.

So, the real question here is why is this happening? Dr Veal suspects that ‘this is due to the increasing sexualisation of society – it’s the last part of the body to be changed’. Pornography does surely have a lot to answer for in terms of pressurising women to measure themselves up against an unattainable ideal. The ideal these women want is not to be able to see their labia minora at all; this is the image of much pornography, many female porn stars have gone through surgery or have naturally small labia. Creighton makes an interesting point that because of shaving, Brazilians and fashions in underwear, this part of the body is more visible now. Further adding to the problem is that everyone is increasingly exposed to the image of a ‘perfect’ body and so women feel pressured to look a certain way. Certainly it is very worrying that a homogenized, pre-pubescent genital appearance is becoming more and more the norm.

In addition to this there are the risks of surgery in an unregulated market outside the NHS. Although many cosmetic surgeons are relaxed about these surgeries they are cashing in on, believing – or at least claiming to believe –  they are helping women feel better about themselves, there are in fact high risks of prolonged bleeding, permanent scarring and infection.
This is a phenomenon that the porn industry – as well as other forms of media – is at least in part, responsible for. Private providers are in turn acting irresponsibly by preying on vulnerable women in need of psychological care. There may be an argument that says women have the right to empower themselves to change the appearance of their labia if they feel it would increase their confidence. In response to this I would say that in the long run I don’t think all of these women will gain confidence and that natural variation is just how we are (like the size of our eyes, ears or noses!). If a woman is unable to embrace her own natural variation then this is body hatred and ultimately no amount of cosmetic surgery will help them.


We Need To Stop Nodding Along

January 24, 2012

 – Feminist Anti Porn Activists Need to be Challenged

 Words By: Art Mitchells-Urwin

 Whilst at a recent conference on the academic study of pornography, I attended a talk given by Professor Gale Dines, whose website describes her as having “been at the forefront of the anti-pornography movement for 2 decades”. During this impassioned talk, Dines spoke about her belief that pornography consumers enjoy watching scenes of anal penetration because it was presented as being painful to the receptive performer, in her given example, the female partner. As a result, Dines argued, pornography was effectively contributing to the proliferation of sexual (and non-sexual) violence towards women through the circulation of violent images. The room nodded in uniform agreement, and Professor Dines continued with her talk.

    There is a real issue with what Professor Dines implied, and continues to be implied in a large amount of feminist discourse regarding pornography. The issue here is either ignorance, or the willful disregard of pornography consumers’ awareness of the construction and fantasy-element of pornography. In the past two decades, consumers of almost all types of media have become increasingly aware of the process of construction that produces the media they choose to consume. One only has to look at the ubiquitous ‘making of’ featurettes on DVDs, television shows, film and music magazines that go to great lengths to document the construction of the final product, in order to see audiences’ appetite for such offerings. The porn industry is not outside of this process.

    If we take the gay porn company, Bel Ami, it is evident that the company’s business model is built not only upon the main features of hardcore pornography containing Eastern-European men, but also the deconstruction of its own pornography. Its website includes lengthy making-of documentaries, video footage of “auditions” and first attempts at scenes which are not up to the standard of their main releases. Often such videos outnumber the main feature videos. Indeed, such an appetite for looking beyond the parameters of the projected pornographic screen is evident, such as in heterosexual pornographic series “Porn’s Most Outrageous Outtakes” which became so popular it ultimately ran to five volumes. Another example “Behind The Sex” runs to four hours long. These DVDs are by their very nature pornographic, and are obviously still intended to arouse the viewer. However the willful deconstruction of the porn is observable.

    It is not only porn producers that are deconstructing pornography for the consumer. The Internet is filled with forums, blogs and review sites that allow consumers to participate in the deconstruction of the medium. Porn 2.0, named after Web 2.0, which allows participation in the creation of a particular webpage or website, has allowed consumers to discuss and comment on the pornography they are consuming, at length and at no cost to the consumer. Whereas once a porn actor or actress would be an anonymous figure, framed only by their stage name and the scenario given to them in any pornographic scene, Porn 2.0 now allows for consumers to reveal the actors and actresses’ real names, their personal histories and their previous pornographic credits. Whether they are enjoying themselves or not, what sexual acts they enjoy on and off screen and their age, are regularly discussed in such spaces.

    Why is this important? Because Gale Dines, and her fellow anti-porn activists have, for many years now, projected the view that consumers (predominantly men, in the feminist argument) are unable to separate the fantasy and performance that is presented within the parameters of the pornographic screen. As a result, they argue, men are viewing some of the more outlandish, violent and paraphernalia-based porn as reality. It should be noted, although rarely is by such activists, that much of the outlandish, violent and paraphernalia-based sex portrayed in porn is practiced by healthy sexual adults in everyday life. The claim that those men are interested in anal sex predominantly due to their exposure to the act in pornography (and want to see and perform it themselves due to their belief that it is painful to the receptive partner) is severely undermining porn audiences’ sexual and intellectual autonomy. It hardly needs to be noted that anal sex has existed amongst homosexuals and heterosexuals long before porn presented it to us through a visual medium.

    As a gay male, my boyfriend and I certainly don’t have anal sex because we desire to hurt each other, nor because ‘it is the only thing available to us’. Like any sexual experience, we do it because regardless of any respective porn use, we are able to separate what is healthy sexually, and what is unhealthy for our relationship and bodies. I am also a researcher on the topic of pornography and thus an automatically assumed to be an apologist for the porn industry. This is simply not true. I think porn can be destructive, dangerous and an unhealthy medium for some, as can many other forms of media, but it can also be a very healthy medium for others.

    Feminism has always occupied a space in the theoretical discussions of pornography. For a number of decades, various splinter groups of feminists have argued against and for pornography, reaching a peak in the “feminist sex wars” of the 70’s and 80’s. For those feminists who opposed pornography, such as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, pornography became the visual manifestation of male misogyny and the continued subjugation of women through male sexual power. Porn allowed these feminist theories to leap from the dusty pages of academia and be used as the visual evidence of their claims. These claims almost invariably focused on what was identified by such feminists as violent, sadistic and degrading images of women.

    Here, in 2012, Third Wave Feminism has reached not only a new generation of women (and men), but has also revisited feminist discussions regarding the depictions of sex in pornography. Thankfully, some of these discussions have progressed after decades of stagnation. Some Third Wave Feminists are also deconstructing porn by arguing that the image presented should not occupy the central consideration, and that it is what the viewer brings to the image which dictates its potential harmful or positive effects.

    If we are to truly look at the effects of porn, regardless of whether they are bad or good, we first need to strip away some of the willfully misguided concepts that anti-porn activists have released into the public consciousness. Only then can we approach pornography with the clarity that is currently missing from such discourses. Feminist anti-porn activists need to be challenged, not necessarily on their beliefs that porn is bad, but challenged to truly evaluate some of the conclusions of pornography that we have begun to take for granted. We need to stop nodding along to Gale Dines.


Getting Out of ‘Coming out’

January 24, 2012

– Some Personal Thoughts on ‘Coming out of the Closet’

Words By: Felicia Dahlquist
 
Sometimes I wonder what my ‘coming out party’ might have been like if I were to have had one. I would make a big entrance dancing to Diana Ross’s 80’s hit; ‘I’m coming out, I want the world to know, got to let it show…’
My friends and family would be gathered and my mother might wrap a feathered boa around her and dance like never before just to prove to everyone how extremely ok she is with having a lesbian daughter. My friends would be wondering what the big deal is; ‘Isn’t everyone gay nowadays?’ and my grandparents would not know what to do or were to look.

For myself, and many who live openly as gay, informing people of your sexual orientation, probably doesn’t happen in the form of a coming out party. Nor is it something that happens one time. Once you make the decision to tell people about your sexuality, it is in most cases something you need to keep disclosing to most people you meet. Not to say that it is the first thing you mention to someone new, ‘Hi, nice to meet you, by the way I’m gay,’ but rather bound to come up at some point. Once you ‘come out’, you will never stop coming out to people, it is actually a never-ending process.  

This is one of the many problems with the idea of ‘coming out of the closet.’ It is a term, which implies that when you decide to tell people that you divert from the norm with your sexual orientation it is something that happens once, a few times or over a certain period of time. And although most people would consider the coming out experience to involve primarily those in your immediate surroundings, this milieu is in constant change for most people. We move, travel, get new jobs, and make new friends meaning that, as a gay person one needs to constantly evaluate, consider and perhaps worry about the outcome of telling people about ones identity.

Another issue with the term is that it implies that there is a closet. It is a dark, hidden and derogatory place, which is perceived to be somewhere to hide for those who don’t dare be honest with themselves and others. There is an idea that being ‘out’ will make you happier as you will be free and liberated, and that those who choose never to live openly as homosexuals are sad, oppressed and scared people. This is obviously a very black and white picture, as gay people aren’t necessarily either or. And even though I wish that we lived in a world where homosexuality had reached universal acceptance, this is not the case, and so a gay person cannot be simplistically placed in a ‘hidden’ or ‘open’ category.  

Apart from the obvious worries and dilemmas people face when coming out, such as acceptance, there is another dimension to the concept of coming out, which proves problematic. The sex in sexuality cannot be avoided. When admitting that you are gay you are essentially specifying and claiming a sexual preference, or who you want to have sex with. This is in addition to the existing sexual and promiscuous stereotypes often surrounding gay people. Having a sex talk with people you meet and having to confront prejudices and stereotypes about gay sex is easier said than done.  

Although at first glance, it may seem as if the happy-clappy people in Soho don’t have any worries concerning being open with their sexuality, the picture is obviously much more complex than that. Last year the reality show ‘Candy Bar Girls,’ aired on Channel 5 and followed the lives of a few lesbians at one of London’s lesbian bars. The show’s slogan was ‘Real Life, Real Lesbians,’ but like many other Channel 5 reality shows it displayed a slanted and limited view of what life for a lesbian in London might be like. Although I strongly welcome the further emergence of various sexualities being broadcasted in TV-series and films, the ‘Candy bar girls,’ was mostly cliché and filled with stereotypes.

But more interestingly I was fascinated by everything that was going on behind the camera, when I by chance found myself at the bar one night during filming. There were a large amount of girls who left the bar when the film team arrived and people who deliberately dodged the camera out of the fear of being revealed as gay when the show was to air. Fears of how family, co-workers and one’s surroundings would react if they saw you on a lesbian show, was clearly evident. I can only say that it is a shame that their stories were not told also.  

The women who dodged the cameras at the Candy bar bring out further questions regarding the terminology of coming out. Not wanting to be ‘outed’ on TV makes it seem as if they choose not to live openly as gay and brings the preconceived conceptions of the unhappy and oppressed closet. But many gay people are selective about who they are open to about their sexuality. For example, someone might tell his or her closest family and friends, but don’t plan on telling co-workers, in order to be protected from potential discrimination or non-acceptance. Does this mean that the person is in the closet? The fluid and varied nature of to whom one is openly gay is too dynamic and varied to be placed in a black and white terminology.      

So the term ‘coming out’ is problematic for several reasons. It is not a onetime thing nor is it as clear-cut as to say that you are ‘in’ (the closet) or ‘out’ (in the open?). It implies that there is a ‘closet’ and welcomes preconceived notions of what the coming out experience might be like. The stigma and prejudice attached to it, and the narrowness of the term, is limiting and creates a very black and white picture.  Although I myself use the term ‘coming out’ a lot, I believe that it is often used carelessly and without much thought. Perhaps it is time we realise the inherent problems of the term and its complexities, as well as discuss, re-evaluate and perhaps even re-formulate the term ‘coming out.’  

Although the thought of having a ‘coming out party,’ might be fun and seem practical at first, I am sure that if I stood there with all my family and friends and Diana Ross playing in the background, I would probably wonder: ‘What am I coming out from? And what am I actually coming out to?’


Are Sex Offenders and Lads’ Mags Using the Same Language?

January 24, 2012

Words By: Katt Watt  

Its comforting to think that, in the 21st century, it wouldn’t be difficult to differentiate between the words of a convicted rapist and advice printed in a popular lads’ mag. Unfortunately, the results of a study carried out by the University of Surrey have shown that both men and women have trouble separating statements made by rapists and the way lads’ mags describe women. “In a group study, we distributed quotes on bits of card to 20 men and women and asked them to rank how degrading they were to women, then we revealed some were from rapists and some were from lads’ mags, and asked them to attribute those quotes to either group,” explained Dr Miranda Horvath, a lecturer in forensic psychology at Middlesex University. “The group guessed correctly 50% of the time. They clearly had considerable difficulty making quick decisions about where these quotes came from.” Four publications were used: Nuts, Zoo, FHM and Loaded, while quotations from rapists were lifted from police interviews. Overall, the quotations from lads’ mags were ranked as more derogatory.

Here are two quotations: “A girl may like anal sex because it makes her feel incredibly naughty and she likes feeling like a dirty slut. If this is the case, you can try all sorts of humiliating acts to help live out her filthy fantasy” and: “There’s a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex . . . The way they dress, they flaunt themselves.” Which is which? Shockingly, the first is from a magazine, the second from a convicted rapist.

Dr Peter Hegarty, of the University of Surrey’s Psychology Department commented: “There is a fundamental concern that the content of such magazines normalises the treatment of women as sexual objects. We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there should be no sexual information and media for young people. But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalise views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual offenders?”

Anna van Heeswijk, a member of OBJECT, a human rights group which campaigns against the objectification of women, said: “This crucial and chilling piece of research lays bare the hateful messages which seep out of lads’ mags and indoctrinate young men’s attitudes towards women and girls. When the content of magazines aimed at teenage boys mirrors the attitudes of convicted rapists, alarm bells must ring.

“If we are serious about wanting an end to discrimination and violence against women and girls, we must tackle the associated attitudes and behaviours. This means tackling the publications which peddle them. The Leveson Inquiry is currently looking into the culture and ethics of the press. These disturbing findings unequivocally demonstrate the need for the portrayal of women to be included in the remit of this inquiry. Now is the time for action.” 

Too damn right.


Sex Education Needs to be More in Touch

January 24, 2012

Words by: Sian McGee

Sex, the first time is painful. They tell you that at school but fail to mention that it is also embarrassing, awkward and jarred. We learn more about the realities of sex outside the classroom growing up and often are young enough to believe horror stories and rumours. Adults appear to be too embarrassed to give young people comprehensive sex education at school and after hearing about the Conservative MP, Nadine Dorries’ bill I doubt the quality of sex education in British schools is going to improve.

Back in May 2011, Ms Dorries presented a bill to Parliament. In it she argues for the teaching of abstinence in schools as part of compulsory sex education. Ms Dorries’ bill focuses on teaching abstinence to girls, presuming the pressure for sex comes from boys alone. “We need to let young girls know that to say no to sex when you are under pressure is a cool thing to do.” I find this deeply problematic and am not the only one. Labour MP Chris Bryant said that the bill was “the daftest piece of legislation I have seen brought forward.” Daft may be one way of describing it but dangerous is another. When it comes to sex education in the UK there is certainly room for a lot of improvement but adopting teaching based on presumptions of gender roles cannot be the way forward. What is more, although teaching young people to wait to have sex and respect each other is admirable, abstinence teaching in the USA has failed to decrease rates of teenage pregnancy, which is strangely an argument used for the introduction of this bill by Dorries.

On her blogspot, Dorries says this in defense of her bill, “I want to place an emphasis on girls. I do. It’s girls who get pregnant, girls who lose their education, girls who are left to bring up a child on benefits, girls who reach old age in poverty, girls who are subjected to a string of guesting fathers as they throw in the towel in a life of welfare misery, girls who seek abortion, girls who suffer the consequences of abortion, girls who are subjected to the increased medical risks of giving birth at a young age, girls who have little control over condom use, girls who are pressurised, girls who are targeted by lad mag marketing, it’s seven year old girls Primark made alluring padded bikinis for, girls who are targeted by paedophiles…” Dorries fails to point out that it is also boys who have little control over condom use due to poor sex education, boys who are targeted by paedophiles, it is also boys who feel peer pressure from other boys and lads mags to conform, it is also boys who are pressurised and it is also boys who are targeted by sexist clothing forcing them into gender stereotyped.

It appears yet again that those responsible for educating the young are dangerously misinformed about the realities of young peoples’ attitudes to sex and until they engage and sideline the embarrassment that comes from talking about it, they never will understand and problems will not be addressed. At 10.30am on January 20th 2012, there is a protest organised for outside of the Houses of Parliament when Ms Dorries’ bill is set for a second reading. I urge you all to be there to show Ms Dorries that out of touch bills only fuel problems, they don’t solve them.

 


FOR’EM MAGAZINE, First Edition: LIBERATION

September 30, 2011

First Edition: LIBERATION

 

 


Struggle for Liberation: A Battle on Two Fronts

September 30, 2011

Words by Johanna Svanelid

When talking about women in conflict we tend to focus on those subjected to male vio- lence. Less often do we remember those fighting for political causes – those not only oppressed as women, but as opponents to an occupying force or brutal dictator. Female freedom fighters are fighting a battle within their own movement, as well as against their oppressors. By being involved in a struggle for freedom and justice, they risk rape and harass- ment. Their struggle is twofold and perhaps liberation in one area is impossible without lib- eration in the other.

Rabab Amidane is a human rights activist from occupied Western Sahara. She was one of the main student activists fighting the occupa- tion and received the Norwegian Student’s Peace Prize in 2009. After Rabab received the prize she could not return home due to threats of discrimination, persecution and torture. Since the decolonisation of Africa, neigh- bouring Morocco has occupied Western Sahara. The population is split between refugee camps in the Algerian desert, and the occupied territories.

In October last year, around 20,000 Saharawi people from occupied territories established protest camps outside the capital El Ayun. They protested against discrimina- tion, poverty and human rights abuses. Noam Chomsky referred to these protests as the true start to the Arab spring. The camps were stormed and destroyed by Moroccan military forces. “They used water cannons, helicopters and firearms, beat people with batons and tore down their tents to force them to leave,” explains Rabab.

Saharawi political activists were arrested in the aftermath and many face imprisonment. People have been harassed and tortured and a high number have disappeared. For Rabab Amidane, the only option was to flee.

“I escaped from the Moroccan terror regime and settled as a refugee in Sweden. I could not live under those circumstances anymore.” The violence is still present; “I have been deeply affected by the recent violent attacks against my people. Police stormed my family’s house for the umpteenth time, and a large number of my closest friends have been imprisoned and beaten up”. For female activists, young and old, it is not uncommon to experience sexual violence and rape in prison.

To try and prevent young women from becoming engaged in the conflict, rumours are spread about the morality of activists. Many Western Saharan female activists have fought this, including Rabab Amidane, Aminatou Haydar and Soultana Khayya. These women have been fighting for a free Western Sahara whilst struggling against their position as second-class citizens.

Without recognition as an ethnic group or country, female liberation is far away. Support from the international arena is required. “The lack of support from the European govern- ments to the Saharawi people is a dangerous sign for the future. The Saharawi’s trust in the EU and the UN as institutions of peace is low. The EU, instead of supporting international law, undermines it by stealing our resources in cooperation with our Moroccan oppressors” explains Rabab.

The Students for a Free Western Sahara Society works in solidarity with all Saharawi students to raise awareness about the occupation of Western Sahara at SOAS.